I spent time yesterday digging dandelions from the front parkway at our house. Recent rains resulted in a bumper crop. It was tedious but we don’t use weedkillers. Doesn’t make sense to spread poisons around our living quarters so toxic Roundup, the deadly choice of millions of American, is never an option. I admit bending to social pressure in my choice to pull the weeds. I was inclined just to leave them but if we left dandelions in the front, I worried neighbors wouldn’t appreciate the fluffy seeds carrying to their yards.
As I dispatched the leafy greens with the bright yellow blooms, I reflected that it is odd: We humans lust for lawns of grass, a plant totally devoid of dietary value to us yet we dig up and discard other plants that are nutritious and edible. Yesterday, along with the dandelions, lamb’s quarter, plantain and burdock found their way to our yard waste bags. All of those are highly nutritious and versatile edibles though American nonsense calls them “weeds.” We spend billions growing grass we can’t eat and more billions killing plants that we can.
There are valuable, edible and medicinal plants all around us. Nature provides and humanity derides. Though the dandelions and plantains on the parkway, near where traffic exhaust and road chemicals pollute them, are not suitable for our kitchen, so-called “weeds” of all sorts can be gathered from the yard or garden. Identifying a few of them will be the goal of the next Heartland Healing sponsored foraging walk scheduled for June 1. (See HeartlandHealing.com/foraging for info.) Here are some of the most ubiquitous plants in nature’s pantry.
Stinging Nettle A very common volunteer vegetable with a tremendous history as a medicine. Traditionally used to treat arthritis, joint and muscle pain, it also has beneficial properties in treating urinary and prostate problems. Nutrient-wise, stinging nettle offers bountiful amounts of silicon and potassium. The tiny spines can sting the fingers but there is a trick to picking them.
Dandelion A tasty volunteer vegetable that most people can identify easily. The green leaves are a nutritious addition to any salad or can be sautéed in garlic and olive oil. All parts are useful. It’s high in vitamins C and A and potassium. The root, the leaf and the flower all have powerful medicinal uses.
Burdock A prevalent plant in the Northern Hemisphere, burdock provides high levels of vitamin B6. Leaves, stems and roots are all edible but do not confuse it with a similar looking plant — rhubarb — which has poisonous leaves.
Plantain Very common “weed”, young plantain leaves are tasty in salads. Older leaves should be cooked. The seeds are edible raw or roasted. The plant can be soaked and formed into a poultice to relieve topical or joint pain.
Garlic Mustard Very invasive garlic mustard should be planted in a container if you grow it in your yard, but it’s a tremendous addition to any salad. It has a bad reputation as an invasive weed and does threaten many native species in the wild. It was likely introduced to the United States by early settlers as a food source and for medicinal purposes. The leaves, flowers and fruit are all edible with a tangy garlic mustard taste.
Sweet Cicely An aromatic herb with the distinctive fragrance of anise, sweet cicely is highly touted as a natural remedy for digestive disorders, colds and as a poultice. As an herb used in recipes, it is similar to fennel.
Lamb’s Quarter, AKA Goosefoot, is a relative of spinach and is considered one of the most nutritious volunteer vegetables you can eat. It’s prolific and grows almost anywhere. You have most certainly pulled some from your own garden as a weed. It contains good amounts of vitamin A and calcium. It can be cooked just like spinach.
Sorrel is an annual and the leaf has a distinctive citrusy flavor. It also grows prolifically and can be invasive. It’s a favorite ingredient in salads and pesto. It’s easy to identify in the wild when it is flowering, with a tall stalk of red blooms. It contains good amounts of potassium and vitamins C and A.
Yellow wood sorrel As with common sorrel, the yellow-flowered version is a member of the oxalis family of plants. All of them have a citrus-y flavor and are high in vitamin C. One nice thing about sorrels is that they are fairly difficult to mis-identify and very easy to eat. Anyone who has weeded a garden or lawn has likely pulled up sorrel and tossed this valuable medicinal and food plant into the trash.
Purslane Another ubiquitous edible, purslane has a creamy, smooth taste and is highly nutritious. It resembles a succulent with thick, green leaves and tumid stems. Tender, young leaves are an amazing addition to salads, soups and sandwiches.
These are “weeds” you’ve seen, walked on and pulled from the yard. Learn to identify them and harvest properly and you’ll be rewarded at the kitchen table.